Gordon Murchie, left (Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association)

Earlier this month, the AWS gave its Award of Merit to Murchie, 79, at its annual conference in Rochester, N.Y., citing his work with the Vinifera Wine Growers Association (now the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association), the Virginia Wineries Association and other groups. He was instrumental in forming the Congressional Wine Caucus, a group of legislators that has helped shape laws favorable to wine consumers.

Full disclosure: I have known Murchie for nearly 20 years and served for a time on the board of directors of the VWGA/ASWA. The small organization, dedicated to promoting viticulture in the eastern United States, has sponsored an annual Virginia wine festival for more than 30 years. It has conducted the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition since 2005 to shine a spotlight on improving viticulture up and down the East Coast.

Murchie became a wine lobbyist 31 years ago after retiring from one of those vague government jobs that people like to talk about without giving details. It apparently took him to various exotic locales where people were shooting at each other. He has, however, an aristocratic Scottish demeanor that seems more jodhpurs and riding crops than cloak and dagger. He definitely looks at home with a glass of wine in his hand, especially if it’s Virginia cabernet franc.

Murchie reacted modestly to the award in an e-mail: “The honor of being recognized by our nation’s largest consumer-based wine organization, the American Wine Society, was both humbling and gratefully received following my over 30 years of active participation in the U.S. wine industry.”

Murchie’s advocacy centered on the effort to grow European vinifera grape varieties in the eastern United States instead of hybrid and native varieties. Today, that seems obvious, but it was rather controversial in its time, as skeptics claimed the European varieties could not be grown successfully in the region’s humid climate. Vinifera varieties have clearly won the day, though there are still fervent advocates for hybrids and other varieties, especially Norton.

“Gordon Murchie has been a ‘rootstock’ in the renaissance of mid-Atlantic wine growing,” says Lucie Morton, a prominent viticulture consultant and 1994 winner of the Award of Merit, in an e-mail. “Rootstocks are not apparent to the naked eye but are the indispensable underpinnings of viticulture. Gordon’s faith in the future of local wines and his work to promote them deserves our gratitude. And may we all emulate the geniality and good humor he brings to the task.”

“Gordon has been a supporter and advocate for Virginia wineries as well as all Eastern U.S. wineries for many years and has worked to increase the acceptability and accessibility of wine in the U.S. at the national level,” said John Hames, AWS executive director, in explaining why the organization chose to honor Murchie.

Murchie’s work on behalf of local wines earned him Person of the Year from the Virginia Wineries Association as well as that group’s first Lifetime Achievement Award. The latter award, now named for Murchie, has since been given to four other Virginia wine luminaries, including Dennis Horton earlier this year.

Horton said in an e-mail this week that Murchie “has made an enormous contribution to the growth of the Virginia wine industry over the last 30 years and more importantly, he still is, and cares deeply about it.”

Previous Award of Merit honorees include Konstantin Frank, New York state’s pioneer with vinifera varieties and the original awardee in 1971; Robert Mondavi; Andre Tchelistcheff; and Ann Noble, the inventor of the “aroma wheel” that describes wine’s aromas and tastes.